FRANCE'S LOIRE VALLEY
You'll find an interesting range of wines here in the
Loire Valley and you'll need to know what grapes grows in which appellation. The
wines, like those of Alsace in France, tend to be varietal wines. Unlike Alsace,
however, Loire Valley wines take their geographical names or appellations. So, while
in Alsace a wine is labeled Riesling, for example, here the wines made of Sauvignon Blanc,
with only a rare exception or two, rarely are noted on the label as being made of
In an effort to clarify the issue for you, here's a "cheat sheet":
||Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, Menetou-Salon, Reuilly, Coteaux du
Giennois, Touraine (usually these have the name "Sauvignon" on the label)
|CHENIN BLANC (also known as Pineau de la Loire)
||Vouvray, Jasnières, Montlouis, Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du
Layon, Savennières. Anjou, Coteaux de Saumur
||Sancerre, Menetou-Salon Rouge
|CABERNET FRANC (also known locally as "Breton")
||Bourgueil, Chinon, Champigny, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Anjou
|MUSCADET (not Muscat!) (Also known as "Melon de
||Muscadet, Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet-Sèvre
et Maine Muscadet Cotes de Grand Lieu
|OTHER MINOR VARIETIES
||Reds: Grolleau (often used for rose wines), Gamay Noir, Pinot
Meunier, Cot (same as Malbec), Pineau d'Aunis (also known as Chenin Noir)
Gros Plant, Folle Blanche, Tressallier, Chardonnay (vintners seem to have increasing interest with
this), Pinot Gris (called Malvoisie), Fie (said to be a Sauvignon mutation),
Some of our Loire Valley Selections:
DAGUENEAU ("Mister Pouilly-Fumé")
seen articles written about Monsieur Dagueneau, calling him the
"bad boy" of the Loire. The "Enfant Terrible." I'm not sure he
warranted that designation, but he
was an outspoken fellow and one who said what he thought rather than what some
people want to hear.
It was a sad day when we learned Didier had died. The plane he was
piloting in France's Dordogne region in September of 2008 stalled and
Located off the main drag in Saint-Andelain, Dagueneau maintains a low
profile on one hand and a high profile on the other. No signs are
posted to give visitors a clue as to the location of this domaine, for
example. On the other hand, this fellow was a vociferous critic of
lackluster viticulture and winemaking. And he was driven to make
outstanding wines and do so according to bio-dynamic farming
Today the winery is run by Didier's kids from his first wife. Son
Benjamin and daughter Charlotte have had the reigns thrust into their hands
and time will tell if they're capable stewards of this benchmark domaine.
winemaking in the early 1980s. His father had (and still has) a
winery. Dagueneau's uncle also makes wine. But Didier's
"training" had been as a competitive motocross rider. He was
also famous in dog sledding circles. Apparently he didn't learn much
winemaking from the family. He didn't want to learn that type of
winemaking! Dagueneau, ever competitive, wanted to make THE BEST and
dad and Uncle Serge just didn't cut it.
The estate comprises about eleven hectares, or so. Organic farming
practices. Low yields. Dagueneau was deeply involved in all phases
of the process. He didn't harvest the fruit when sugar levels reach a
certain point, for example. He'd taste the grapes and decide when to
pick as he tasted "ripe" flavors. Try an average bottle of
Pouilly-Fumé and you'll often encounter vegetal, unripe flavors and thin,
meager wines. That's not what Dagueneau is about.
The winery was built in 1989. It's pristinely clean. Dagueneau
insisted we taste, on a visit some years ago, before having a look at the vineyards, since he didn't
want us tracking "terroir" into the clean cellar. Stainless
steel. Oak barrels. The usual winery equipment.
the barrels, from a variety of coopers, have the letters "DSLS"
painted on most of them. "DIEU SEUL LE SAIT." Daguenau
explained. "God only knows what the type of oak is." Dagueneau
tells us. "The barrel builders sell various types of wood, Alliers,
Tronçais, Limousin, Nevers...but God only knows for sure what sort
of wood a particular barrel really is!"
If you have the idea Didier was an iconoclast, I'd say you're correct.
He had purchased a piece of land in the Sancerre village of
Chavignol, a town famous for the little "Crottin de Chavignol"
goat cheese. However, it's been quite a while since anyone in
Chavignol has had goats, let alone made cheese there! One day there
will be Dagueneau's Crottin de Chavignol and it will be from
Chavignol! And producers of Sancerre were a bit nervous
upon learning Didier had purchased a parcel of vines in their neighborhood
and was intent upon producing wine of their vaunted appellation.
vast circle of winemaker friends, Dagueneau hung out with a tough
audience. He'd, apparently, been chided for "only" making
white wines. Colleagues contend that "it's easy to make white
wines." So, Dagueneau planted some Pinot Noir, hardly the easiest
red wine to produce.
We were offered a sample, poured
"blind." I told Dagueneau it was someone's red Burgundy and a
really good one. Didier challenged everyone and so to lead me astray
he claimed it was made by a certain California vintner.
of town!" I screamed. (This certainly was a challenge to Monsieur
Dagueneau's skills with the English language!) That fellow doesn't
make Pinot Noir of this caliber, so I couldn't imagine it was a Californian
Finally he revealed that the wine in question was, in fact, his own Pinot Noir.
Now he can offer his colleagues a glass of amazingly fine
"Burgundy" that comes from well outside the appellation (of the Côte
d'Or). I understand he also planted some Riesling...why not
attempt to produce some "house wine" from that remarkably noble
grape for home consumption?
The Pouilly-Fumé wines are the work of a perfectionist.
PF = Pouilly-Fumé, Perfectly Farmed and Pretty Fantastic.
"En Chailloux" is the basic bottling is the main production of
Pouilly-Fumé. Part of the final blend is fermented in oak, part in
stainless steel. Wood is not a major component of the wine, however.
"Pur Sang" is a wonderful wine which is fermented in wood.
There is a bit of toastiness to the wine, but the oak only adds
complexity; it does not dominate!
"Buisson Renard" is also fermented in barrel, but I found the oak
to be less intense than in the Pur Sang. Buisson Renard use to be
called "Buisson Menard" until a prominent French wine writer
misspelled the name in a well read publication. To nail the critic,
Dagueneau changed the name of the wine to the misspelling!
"Silex" is regarded as the top bottling, coming from old vines in
"Asteroide" is the collector's item of the bunch, costing hundreds
of dollars for a half-liter bottle. If your lotto ticket is a winner,
treat yourself to a bottle of this.
Otherwise, try the Pur Sang.
(As we drove around the vineyards, Dagueneau showed us a parcel of vineyard
that he had just acquired in an exchange with another vigneron. He
said it would take a few years of organic farming to get the vineyard into
the proper condition.
I told Dagueneau that if he acquired a vineyard
that was nearly impossible to 'fix," a real pain in the ass, he could
offer a companion, single vineyard bottling to Asteroide: "Hemorrhoid."
The 2007 Blanc Fume is an exceptional introduction to Dagueneau's world of
Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is rather low in alcohol, high in terms of
varietal character and displaying "terroir" (chalky and minerally
The Pur Sang wine has beautifully intense Sauvignon fruit and a nice toasty
oak adding spice and complexity.
We tasted (October 2013) some current releases from the winery and did not
find the wines to warrant the hugely premium price tags which these
carry...The Pur Sang struck me as a mere shadow of its former self, so we'll
be sitting on the sidelines in the future, I suspect.
Currently in stock:
2007 "Pur Sang" $95.99 (a few bottles remain)
2008 "Pur Sang" $89.99 (a few bottles remain)
2007 Blanc Fume (List $70) SALE $59.99
- SYLVAIN BAILLY (Domaine Croix Saint Ursin)
- This domaine is run by Jacques Bailly and his wife Marie-Helene.
They're located in the town of Bu, though vineyard holdings are
scattered around the appellation.
Bailly has about 11 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre, some 3.5
hectares of Pinot Noir and about 5 hectares of Sauvignon in
The Sancerre comes from differing soils. Jacques explained that
about 70% of their vineyards are in limestone, the balance in a soil
that's a combination of clay and limestone.
Bailly's is our most popular Sancerre, his wine having a nice combination
of minerality and citrus. Oak is not part of the program here.
Various sites are picked at differing levels of sugar, so Bailly's
fermentation tanks of Sancerre vary in character until he blends
them. A "prestige" bottling is produced in riper vintages
and a part of that wine is wood aged. Even so, it's hard to beat the
"Les Terroirs" bottling.
Red Sancerre is made, of course, of Pinot Noir. A French woman
picked up a bottle of Bailly's red wine, not knowing this and commented,
"There must be something wrong with your Sancerre...it's awfully dark
"It's a red wine." we told her.
- Currently available: 2012 Sancerre "Terroirs"
(list $24) SALE $19.99 (750ml)
DOMAINE DE LA PÉPIÈRE (Marc Ollivier)
been enchanted by this artisan's soulful Muscadet for a number of
years...his wine tastes deeper and more interesting than most of the wines
from the western part of the Loire Valley.
Ollivier's grandfather had vineyards and his father and uncle took
over. But when they had children, they realized the estate was not
sufficiently large to support two growing families, so Marc's father left
Marc was studying for some sort of scientific career when he realized he'd
end up teaching and cooped up in a school environment. He enrolled in
a wine course in Burgundy and then was bitten by the wine bug.
In the 1980s he began making wine at the Domaine de la Pépière and farming
7 hectares of vines. In 1988 he took over the Clos des Briords
vineyard and Clos Cormerais in 1992.
Much of his education in winemaking has come through his own experiences and
experiments in viticulture and vinification. He saw that his wines
fermented with native yeasts smelled and tasted more complex than wines made
with a selected yeast culture. He's found his wines are more complex
with lower levels of SO2 and so he
doesn't use much sulfur these days.
He farms organically or sustainably, but is not married to the idea of
strict biodynamic grape growing.
And yet he doesn't make claims about making "natural" wines.
His techniques are his own and he makes wine for his own enjoyment and if
there's an audience for these, so much the better.
- We have a 2010 Muscadet from Ollivier and it's called
"Les Gras Moutons." This nicely showcases the stony aspects
of Muscadet, having hints of a green apple sort of fruit with the rocky,
flinty, minerally character.
Oysters, of course, pair handsomely with this. It also has matched
with my anchovy-enhanced, lemony, garlicky salad dressing with some poached
prawns on top of a bed of arugula and baby lettuce...but seafood is best
- Currently in stock: 2010 DOMAINE DE LA PÉPIÈRE
"Les Gras Moutons" $18.99
- DOMAINE DES BAUMARD
- A family-run producer specializing in Chenin Blanc wines from
Quarts-de-Chaume. They work to retain the fresh fruit aromas of Chenin Blanc,
picking the grapes into small bins and vinifying at low temps in stainless steel.
Their Quarts-de-Chaume can mature over several decades (think of what California Chenin
Blanc is still good after two or three years)! We've found their Anjou Rouge,
made of Cabernet Franc, to be a very charming and price-worthy wine.
Their Coteaux du Layon "Carte d'Or" is a magnificent sweet Chenin
Blanc, while their special, single-vineyard wine of "Clos de Sainte
Catherine" is even more honeyed and rich. This is from the 1998
2008 Quarts de Chaume (375ml) $44.99
2005 Clos des Papillon $34.99
1998 Coteaux du Layon "Clos de Sainte Catherine" $32.99
- DOMAINE PATRICK COULBOIS
Coulbois had been a grower in the Pouilly-Fumé village of Saint Andelain
and now his son Patrick runs this small domaine. Patrick's wife also
comes from a wine growing family, so together they have about 8.7 hectares
of vines, all bit a half a hectare being Sauvignon. The other variety
Coulbois cultivates is Chasselas which "dad" used to make into
The domaine started back in 1974 and today Coulbois produces about 30,000
bottles from vines cultivated in three soil types: Silex (flint), chalk and
The flinty soil gives a real minerally character to the wine and that's why
we like this fellow's Pouilly-Fumé. The wine is labeled "Les
Cocques" as it comes from Silex soil. It's got a wonderful
fragrance of stones and grapefruit, with a touch of a floral note.
Bone dry and crisp, this is a great match with seafood! I almost sense
a 'salty' quality to the wine, too.
Currently in stock: 2012 Pouilly-Fumé "Les
Patrick Coulbois opening a bottle
of his Pouilly-Fumé.
- DOMAINE DAULNY
- Etienne Daulny owns a small domaine in a sub-region of Sancerre called
"Chaudenay." You'll be near the village of Verdigny if
you're looking for it on a map.
Daulny is an old-timer who's been growing grapes and making good Sancerre
for several decades. The estate comprises about 15 hectares and he
makes a basic Sancerre, an "old vines" bottling from his prized
"Clos de Chaudenay" vineyard and a nice little Sancerre Rouge.
Our friend who imports the Daulny wines allowed me to accompany him on an
excursion a number of years ago. We had not purchased any of the first
vintages he imported from this domaine. We tasted through the cellar one
cold winter afternoon and I found the basic Sancerre to be "correct,"
but still lacking excitement.
We'd tasted a sample of the Clos de Chaudenay and I suggested that, perhaps, a
bit of this tank blended into the basic bottling might make for a more
interesting wine. I was pleasantly surprised when Daulny put together a
few blends incorporating various percentages of the Clos de Chaudenay
wine. Voilà, as they say. We ended up choosing one of them and this
batch was then shipped to the Bay Area.
I've returned to visit on several other trips with the importer and now we routinely work to find
the blend which works best. And, I'm delighted to report, the recent
vintages we have had in the shop have been very popular with our
But I've created a monster: our importer friend now works with a number of
producers in his portfolio and likes to assemble his own, personal blend...
The 2012 has just hit the west coast. It's a deliciously dry, crisp,
lip-smacking, tart, dry Sauvignon Blanc. We like the citrusy notes and the
minerality of this wine. It's fresh and bone dry. No
Daulny also makes a bit of Rosé and Sancerre Rouge. We don't buy
either, presently, but I will say the red wine has been pretty good. On a
recent visit, I teased Etienne about his "Domaine de la
Romanee-Daulny." He appreciated the good natured ribbing.
I brought a bottle of the 2007 Chaudenay to an Italian vintner who makes good
Sauvignon...he was very impressed and kept muttering Italian
expressions/expletives as he drank the wine, preferring it that night, to his
- Currently in stock: DAULNY 2012 SANCERRE BLANC $19.99
Etienne in March of 2011
CAVE DE SAUMUR
- The Saumur
appellation is a bit obscure for most wine drinkers. Hard core Loire
Valley fans know it, but the average bear is in the dark on these wines.
More prominent are the Chenin Blanc wines of Vouvray and the Cabernet Franc
wines of Chinon.
This can be good news for those of us who appreciate wines which fall into
the category of "affordable."
There's a very good grower's co-operative whose wines arrive here at
sensible price levels.
We've had their wines from time to time and, with the 2008 vintage, now's
They make a wine from a single vineyard site south of Saumur (and the winery
is also south of the town of Saumur and south of the river) near Meron.
"Les Pouches" is the name of the vineyard.
you have a ten dollar bill in your pocket and a taste for Chenin Blanc grown in
chalky soils, this is a terrific wine. The flint and limestone contribute
to the character of this non-oaked white wine which is vinified to total
dryness. There's a hint of peach and citrus to this wine...but just
hints. You might even sense a chalky element in this wine...we do.
It's a lovely little cocktail white as it sets up the palate for a bigger or
more complex wine with the main course. This is not terribly fancy...it's
just a good, dry, crisp white wine.
This is said to pair well with goat cheeses and Asian cuisine.
The producers claim it pairs handsomely with seafood in a cream sauce, but we
find it a bit austere for that arena.
We went for a second
bottle..."Some more Saumur?"
Currently in stock: 2012 Saumur "Les Pouches" $9.99
OISLY & THESEE
This producer is a grower's cooperative...and an interesting one at that!
They've been around since the 1960s and have long sold wine in bottle, a
relative novelty in those days when much wine was sold in bulk.
We understand they had 55 growers as members in the 1990s, but today it's
a much smaller enterprise as a lot of the younger generation of owner
families have decided they want to make and bottle their own wines.
Probably some of this was brought about by the co-op preferring to ferment
each grower's fruit separately to see what they had...then they'd make
their master blend in order to sell the wines.
Of course, most growers are going to find their wine superior to the
bottling which hit the market...
Anyway, we've tasted the little Sauvignon Blanc from this winery for many
years and they always turn out a clean, sound wine.
We were a bit surprised to find the 2012 tasting somewhat brighter and
slightly more intense than we'd found in the past. The wine remains
attractively priced and a nicely tangy, bone dry, crisp Loire Valley,
entry level Sauvignon Blanc.
If you're preparing some sort of seafood and you like a squeeze of lemon,
you'll probably find this wine to be worth a try. And at its modest
price, even if it's not your cup of Sauvignon Blanc, you've been bruised
for a mere eight bucks.
Currently in stock: 2012 OISLY & THESEE
SAUVIGNON BLANC $7.99
CHEVALIER Domaine de L'Aujardiere
wines of the western part of France's Loire Valley might be more popular
if consumers didn't confuse Muscadet with Muscat. But the average
bear in America sees the name Muscadet on a wine label and immediately
associates the wine with bottlings that are often hugely perfumed and
Eric Chevalier grew up on a little wine producing farm and worked for a
negociant firm in Touraine for about a decade before heading back home and
taking the reins of the family domaine. He had been working at the
Laroche winery in Chablis where he was exposed to the Chardonnay
grape. Similarly, he learned about red wine in the Anjou appellation
of the Loire.
His father was ready to retire and Eric wasn't looking to run the winery,
so the vineyards were in danger of being ripped out or sold,
perhaps. But the planets and stars came to some particular alignment
and Chevalier decided to move back home and handle the vineyards, along
with making some wines.
The wine we're crazy about from Monsieur Chevalier is not his lovely
Muscadet, but the wine made from a curious variety known in the Loire as
"Fie Gris." This is a relative of Sauvignon Blanc, though
the skin of the grape actually ripens to a lightly colored hue, appearing
to the uninitiated as though it might be a red grape. It's said to
have been fairly widely planted in the 1800s, but when the vineyards were
destroyed by the Phylloxera root louse, growers replanted with Sauvignon
Blanc as it was said to yield a larger crop. So much for
Sauvignon Gris or "Fie Gris" if you're in the western Loire.
We see Sauvignon Gris in Bordeaux and France's Southwest and there's a bit
in Chile, too.
Chevalier makes a really nice dry white from Fie Gris...dry, as you might
expect. There's an interesting spice tone here with hints of a
vegetal or herbal note. This is marvelous as a cocktail white and it
pairs quite nicely with seafood (shrimp marinated in olive oil, thyme,
garlic and a bit of chili pepper and then broiled for a few minutes...)...
Currently in stock: 2010 ERIC CHEVALIER "FIE
DOMAINE DU CLOSEL (Chateau des Vaults)
property was originally called the Chateau des Vaults, but it's been known
as the Domaine du Closel for maybe half a century.
The property was owned by the Marquis de Las Cases around the time of the
Phylloxera scourge and Bernard de Closel married into the family.
It's situated at the south-eastern part of the town of Savennières.
Monsieur de Closel was, in fact, even the mayor of the village...imagine in
these days of term limits, this guy was elected to the post in 1919 and remained
the Mayor until 1956. It was under his leadership that Savennières got
its appellation (1952). De Closel's niece took over the property in 1962
and now the domaine has passed on to her daughter, Evelyne de Jessey-Pontbriand.
It was Evelyne's mom, Michele, who renamed the estate as Domaine du Closel,
wanting to honor her Uncle Bernie.
Today there are nearly 17 hectares of vineyards. They've
been farming organically for a number of years and are certified by Ecocert.
In addition to Chenin Blanc, they make some Anjou wines of Cabernet Franc and
Cabernet Sauvignon. And today Evelyne heads the Savennières' grower's
group, so she's got a leadership role in the region.
We are fans of her Clos du Papillon bottling. The 2007 is in the shop
presently. If you're interested to experience a wine made of Chenin Blanc
which has finesse and complexity, and you're able to appreciate a subtle wine,
you might try one of these. We find notes reminiscent of white flowers,
quince, a suggestion of honey or beeswax and some nicely stony, minerally
tones. The wine is dry and showing well now, but it can be cellared for
many more years, too. Got lobster?
Currently in stock: 2007 DOMAINE DU CLOSEL SAVENNIÈRES
"Clos du Papillon" $34.99
- This is a leading light in Vouvray and many connoisseurs view the Huet
domaine as the reference point for the appellation.
Victor Huet started this estate in 1928, buying Le Haut Lieu property from
the Masse family. Huet and his wife Anna Constance had a son,
Gaston, who studied agronomy before being drafted into the military as
World War II started. The property was devastated during the war and
Gaston Huet had been in a Prisoner of War Camp from 1940 until the war
He's often cited in an interesting book called WINE & WAR by Don &
Petie Kladstrup. It's a fascinating book featuring interviews with
many wine industry figures whose lives were impacted by the Nazi invasion.
When Huet returned home, he found the vineyards in a sad state, not having
been pruned or plowed (the Nazis took all the horses for one thing).
He set about righting the ship and in 1947, one of the greatest vintages
on record for Vouvray, Huet was elected as Mayor of the town, a post he
held until 1989 (coincidentally, another Hall of Fame vintage for
Over the years, Le Haut Lieu grew to a 9 hectare site. Le Clos
du Bourg became a stable-mate in 1953 and this is now a 6 hectare
parcel. Also part of the domaine is Le Mont and this is an 8 hectare
Huet had two daughters and a son. The son, Jean, didn't get along
well with his old man and took off for greener pastures. We
understand he became a photographer.
The youngest daughter, Marie-Francoise, married the son of a local
butcher. This fellow, Noel Pinguet, was not a wine drinker and he
was involved with an insurance company in Paris. In 1971 the
newlyweds moved back to Vouvray and Pinguet got his first taste of
winemaking, learning from old man Huet. He never had any formal
training, but when you're learning from a fellow who has a Black Belt in
Vouvray, perhaps you don't need to sit in a classroom listening to enology
professors droning on about winemaking theories.
Pinguet, then, assumed control of the winemaking chores in 1976 and he
continued the fine tradition of the Great Gaston. Huet passed away
in 2002 and the Pinguets had two daughters who did not express much
interest in the family business. So the property was sold to a
Filipino-born fellow, Anthony Hwang. Pinguet remains working at the
domaine on a part-time basis and is under contract to remain in this
position until 2015.
They have a sensible program to keep a large portion of the vines at least
30 years old, with about 35% of the property being, at least, mature and
in the range of 10 to 30 years of age. Fifteen percent of the estate
is in recently-planted vineyards.
The vineyards are all hand-harvested, a bit of a rarity in Vouvray as most
vines are not mechanically harvested. They've embraced biodynamic
vineyard cultivation, though were spooked in the Spring of 2008 and
sprayed something not approved to save the crop. They've since
returned to their normal, sensible, biodynamic practices.
We have Le Haut Lieu Sec in the shop from the 2010 harvest. This is
a marvelous dry white with some beautiful fruit and stony notes.
It's still young, but it has such character! It can probably easily
be cellared another 5 to 10 years and it will continue to grow.
Also in the shop if the 2008 Le Mont Demi-Sec. Here's another
youthful wine with a firm backbone and delightful balance. It's
mildly sweet, but not full-throttle sugary.
Currently available: 2010 LE HAUT LIEU SEC Sold
2008 LE MONT DEMI-SEC $39.99
and Catherine Champalou embarked on their wine-making adventure in 1983
when they planted their first Chenin Blanc vines in the Vouvray
appellation...all of one half of a hectare! Today they farm 21
hectares of vineyards splashed across the appellation.
The winery has grown and so have their kids, as the two Champalou
daughters are now working in the wine biz, one in Vouvray with Mom and
Dad, the other in Great Britain.
We're fans of their basic Vouvray...while many wines of this appellation
have a decidedly mushroomy character, the Champalou wine is bright, nicely
appley and fruity in terms of aromas and flavors, with tangy acidity
giving the wine a fairly dry finish.
We like this wine for its zesty character and 'clean'
fragrances and flavors...Very bright and youthful.
Currently in stock: 2012 CHAMPALOU Vouvray $17.99
MORE LOIRE VALLEY WINES